Finland’s Students Do Little Homework and Perform Best in International Tests

In Finland, schools starts at the age of 7, high school students spend less than 1/2 hour a night on homework, and very little time is spent on standardized test preparation. This Wall Street Journal article titled “What Makes Finnish Kids So Smart?” takes a closer look at schools in Finland to show how their students come to be so well educated.

8 thoughts on “Finland’s Students Do Little Homework and Perform Best in International Tests

  1. There was an entire discussion on this article on Gifted Exchange. I in fact discovered that blog off this one!
    Here’s a snippet of an analysis of that article from that gifted blog:

    >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

    The WSJ offers a few other ideas about Finnish educational success. One is that kids learn to read very early because American television and movies tend to have Finnish subtitles, rather than dubbing. If you want to know what’s going on, you have to learn to read. Few American kids feel so motivated.

    >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

    I’d have to take umbrage with this one point. Sara Bennett is right. Scandinavian schools, including Finnish ones, don’t start formal reading until age 7 and those countries have the highest literacy rates in the world. I learned this early, twelve years ago when my daughter was three, from David Elkind’s marvelous book, “Miseducation: Preschoolers at Risk.”

    (As an aside, I cut my parenting and educational philosophy teeth from five outstanding theoreticians; David Elkind, Alfie Kohn, Susan Ohanian and Faber-Mazlish. I’d of course include Sara Bennet in this list but her book had not yet debuted when I was a new parent.

    My daughter was an early reader but Elkind strongly advises against teaching children to read in preschool unless they are knocking down your door, clamoring to learn to read. He notes, and I have ample anecdotal evidence to back this up, that many parents do so for trophy and bragging rights and wind up doing lasting harm. There are other developmental things little kids need to learn at that age, and he points to Finland as a shining example.

    My daughter is a VORACIOUS reader, she reads EVERYTHING. I actually have to hide books, can you believe this, because then she’d read Tolstoy she found in the bathroom instead of doing her homework. She has no time to read great literary works of her own choosing, she has mountains of homework to attack. Yes, I know. It would hilarious if it weren’t so sad.

    I did not teach my little one the mechanics of reading when she was in preschool, as my friends were doing. But we read to her all the time. I seeded the house with books, we tripped over them, they were everywhere. My daughter has been raised in a very language-rich home, complete with art and imagination.

    In those early years, it wasn’t about working on a result, learning to read, as much as nurturing an imagination, carefully building a life long love of reading. I was after curiosity, endless questions, picture books, and yes, I can’t say it enough, watering a fertile imagination.

    This isn’t schadenfreude, just some affirmation that at least I did some things right! My daughter, as said, reads everything. New York Times at age 8, Wuthering Heights in 5th grade (teacher chastised her for reading that novel because in doing so, she neglected to copy twenty word definitions out of the dictionary, an unbearably tedious task for a 10-year old ADD-ish visual spatial learner).

    Yes, she was reading chapter books in kindergarten, but we didn’t sit her down and teach her to read. By second grade,her reading exploded and that is when she developed her incurable reading disease, her favorite pass time.

    Friends of mine who bought those Bob books and taught reading to their young children now tell me their kids don’t read for pleasure.Calls to mind that Mark Twain saying, “The man who does not read has no advantage over the man who cannot read.”

    Also, many boys are not neuro-developmentally ready to start reading in kindergarten. I attended a lecture by Joan Deak many years ago in which she stated, when boys are forced to read before their brain neurons are ready, at best you will cause frustration, at worst a learning disability. On a homeschool list, some parents reported that what looked like early dyslexia went away when they waited. But in today’s test to read, read to test climate, no one has the patience to watch the flower bloom.

    Oh, here’s the entire link from gifted exchange. Read comments on this Wall Street Journal article on Finnish schools:

    http://giftedexchange.blogspot.com/2008/02/what-makes-finnish-kids-so-smart.html

    J.

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  2. I strongly agree that kids learn very quickly and especially from the TV. I loved less homework part in the article because in my country we teachers give a lot of homework that I strongly object to. We have to change something I believe. Miray Alç?tepe from Turkey.

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  3. What lucky children. It’s nice to know that, somewhere, children still have a childhood, like I did. Although it wasn’t safe for me to be out walking in the dark in 1st grade, school was MY territory. My parents weren’t asked to micromanage everything that went on there. They were invited once in awhile, to see special projects. They attended a conference twice a year, to discuss how we were doing. I was allowed to talk quietly when walking through the hall, allowed to chat at the sinks in the restroom, allowed to wear what I liked, and allowed to sit wherever I wanted on the bus. It seems like Finnish children still enjoy these types of freedoms, that are denied my US children. They also (like I had) have FAR less homework than my children do, today.

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  4. Young kids are thrilled to learn. Then something happens. By grade 8 many of my kid’s peers said the “hated school”.

    I believe we beat the love of learning out of them with too much work. They need time to do what they want, hang with their friends, be outside etc. The absolute last thing they need after 6 hours in a desk is more school.

    If we pile on too much work they will detest it. Then there is less overall learning, not more.

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  5. I am in 5th grade and my teacher gives me about 3 hours of homework. I don’t get enough sleep and I am real tired in the morning when I get up at 7:30. I believe that a good student remembers what s/he is taught in the 6-7 hours that they are in school. Homework takes up all of my time and I don’t even have time for chores. My weekends are overrun by math and ELA. My teacher says that when I have been working in homework for 2 hours, I should stop and go to bed. That leaves me with a bad grade because I didn’t get my homework done and then that leads to not getting in to MIT and becoming an astronaut.

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  6. We have to understand homework is a choice, and not a forceful event. i personally believe in homework because it nourishes my brain to remember what i previously learned. Every individual does not have the same mentality, and will do things differently, that is why we grow up to be doctors, artist, teachers, etc. If homework works for you, then do it. Finish students may do little or no homework and still perform best in world examination because we all learn and grasp knowledge differently. What works in Finland might not work in The US due to many other factors and the environment.

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